Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Quick Tour of the BVIs

What a whirlwind the last week and a half has been!! We arrived in St. John on January 12th and only had nine days to take a trip through the British Virgin Islands before needing to make it to St. Thomas, where we would pick up my mom for a week-long visit. I am beyond ecstatic to see her!! It has been eleven months since I last saw her, and that is way longer than I have ever gone. Plus, we will get to show off some of our sailing skills :) The last time she and my dad were on the boat was back in Texas when we were total newbies to sailing, and things did not go quite as planned. But this time we will be able to show her what sailing  is really like.

So in a nutshell, here is how our week and a half has transpired. It's a long post so if you don't make it to the end, scroll down to see a link for my dolphin video.

Round Bay, St. John – Jumped off the boat for a quick snorkel around some rocks. Not that impressive so went back to the boat. Fixed how the dinghy was put together because the guys at the marina didn’t seem to know what they were doing.

Hurricane Hole, St. John – Motored fifteen minutes to this spot and snorkeled in the mangroves. Again not impressive and moved to Coral Harbor since the moorings are only day use. No anchoring allowed!

Coral Bay – Went to shore to have a burger at Skinny Legs since we read it’s a must stop if in the area. It was a pretty good burger, but they only served potato chips as a side. It’s not a true burger experience unless there are fries. Am I right or am I right?!

Salt Pond Bay – Best snorkeling on St. John and pretty beach! In most of the bays on the south side of St. John, there are moorings with a $15 overnight fee that belong to the national park system, and anchoring is prohibited. As we pulled up, I could see that all of the mooring balls were taken and disappointment began to set in. Just as we were about to give up, I saw a snorkeler waving at us and pointing down at the water. I took it to mean there was a mooring there so we hightailed it to them, and they helped me tie off to the pendant. Thank you fellow cruisers! It was very fortuitous because they had just discovered the mooring line as we pulled up and also because there were two speed boats zipping around looking for a line. They told us the floating mooring ball had been ripped off earlier in the day by a boat under sail, which made the line slip under the water and become unnoticeable to those on a boat. After we tied off, we jumped off the boat to a snorkel spot that was about 150 feet from the boat, and there was lots of coral and fish. Next we headed to the beach to read and relax in the sun. I decided to go snorkeling again since there was lots of sea grass, which can mean turtles are nearby. I found two of them. My limited experience with turtles is they can either be scared of you and immediately swim away or just ignore you as they chomp away on their daily meal. These two were the latter so I got some good pics.

Soper’s Hole, Tortola – The next day we sailed to Soper’s Hole to check into the British Virgins Islands. It’s a deep bay full of mooring balls, which cost $30 throughout the BVIs unless owned by the park system. We wanted to check in and leave and wasn’t sure if we would be charged for only using the mooring for an hour or two so we elected to anchor in 50 or 60 feet of water. If you don’t know, that is really deep for anchoring and requires a lot of rode (anchor chain). It was more rode then we had to be effective against dragging through the sand so David kept the engine running while I took the dinghy over to Customs. I normally don’t go through the check in process since David does so I don’t have any experience with it, but these people were just plain rude. There was some eye rolling after I asked if I should pay in USD or British pounds (it’s USD by the way) and all around bad attitude. An hour later I finally left the office, and we were able to pull up the hook and head to Norman’s Island.

Norman’s Island – Home to the famous Willy T's floating bar, which is a boat made into what else, a bar/restaurant. There is nothing but fun happening at the place. You’ll see some crazy antics like middle age women lying on the bar getting fake tattoos on their booty and then jumping naked from the upper deck just to get a free T-shirt, but it is totally worth stopping by. And yes, we jumped, but kept the swim suits on! We met some nice couples who were on charter boats, which means they hire a captain to sail them around on a sailboat or sail themselves on a rented boat. The BVIs and USVIs are full of them. Usually when we are out sailing we never see any boats, but it's primo sailing grounds in this area so there are a lot of charter companies.

The Indians – Not too far away from Norman's Island lie the Indians, which are four protruding rocks that have awesome snorkeling. This is the best snorkeling I’ve EVER experienced. There were so many fish, swaying sea fans, and colorful coral. I loved just hanging out in one spot watching how the fish interact with each other - the bigger ones always chase away the smaller ones from THEIR spot. I loved it and can’t wait to show my mom when she gets here. I only posted a couple of pics from our time there, but I will post a video of the snorkeling after Mom's visit. It was only a short distance from Norman’s Island so we just took the dinghy there. Once we got back to Norman’s Island, we snorkeled around the caves.



Road Town, Tortola – Not much to say here except that we did some grocery shopping and hung out in a very rolly anchorage for two nights, which became kind of annoying. Why did we stay in a bad anchorage for two nights you ask? Because all of the good spots in that area were taken up by mooring balls that cost $30 a night. That’s a lot for cruisers on a budget. It was very frustrating in most of the BVI bays to find a suitable anchorage spot since there were mooring balls everywhere.

Salt Island – Here were attempted to snorkel the RMS Rhone wreck, which is a ship that wrecked on the rocks during a hurricane in the 1800s and lost most of its crew. It was too deep to see anything good, but it's a great dive spot if you get the opportunity.

Cooper Island – We snorkeled around Cistern Point, which had pretty good snorkeling. There is a fish that David and I have seen in several areas that we had been trying to get a photo of. Its color is deep blue with neon blue spots, but it is tiny and moves quickly if you dive down. I think David got a fantastic shot of it this time. Don’t you agree? Next we headed to the beach club for  some happy hour drinks and time on the beach. Snorkeling this much kind of wears you out, but I’m not complaining!

Virgin Gorda, The Baths – Oh the Baths! This is the #1 thing to do in the BVIs according to several lists so of course we had to stop. It’s a unique set of large granite boulders where the sea washes in to create pools of water. The path starts at one beach and leads you to another spectacular beach called Devils Bay. Anchoring here is not allowed, and you cannot bring your dinghy ashore. Once we tied the boat to a mooring, we took the dinghy in to a closer mooring, tied off, jumped in with nothing but swim suits and a camera, and swam about 500 feet to the beach. Phew, that seemed like a long swim! It doesn’t get shallow enough to touch until you are almost right on the beach. There is a triangle-shaped entrance that we had to duck down to walk through and immediately entered a grotto-like shallow pool. Going down a short distance, there is an opening with sun shining through and water rushing in as the waves come crashing to shore. There is no way to describe the experience unless you’ve been there! We meandered along the path, sometimes going off-path to climb the boulders and look at the beautiful ocean before us. David even found a little “Jacuzzi” area, where bubbles would form from the surf, and we laid there enjoying some private time. I sometimes wonder why we want to give up this crazy, adventurous life!

The opening to the Baths


Anegada – The island of miles and miles of powdery white sand and turquoise water. This Virgin Island is different than her sister islands in that she is made up of coral and limestone instead of volcanic rock and is only 28 feet above sea level at the highest point. Once we saw it, it almost seemed as if Anegada belonged in the Bahamas since it was so different than what we had seen recently. After some bickering with a neighboring boat (I won’t go into it, but for the record, the guy was an a$$hole), we anchored and spent the rest of the day on the boat to relax. The next day we were ready to explore! Sometimes living on a budget means making tough decisions. So it was either rent a car or have a sumptuous lobster dinner which the island is famous for. We went with the car since the good beaches where on the north side of the island, and we could only anchor on the south side due to a reef that almost encircles the island. We started the day with cinnamon rolls and banana bread from Pam’s Kitchen, and wow were they good! It’s the first time we’ve had either in over a year. Next we were driven to get our rented jeep and headed to Loblolly beach to snorkel. It didn’t go so great since it was overcast and there was a crazy current. We spent the rest of the afternoon limin’ (a.k.a. relaxing in Caribbean slang) on Cow Wreck Beach, which got its name from a ship carrying cows that wrecked a long time ago. The sun finally came out, and we were able to enjoy the gorgeous beach in all its glory. After a few beers, rum drinks, conch fritters, and a shot of absinthe, we made our way back to the boat.

Trellis Bay, Tortola – We only stopped the next day to break up the journey to Jost Van Dyke. We made a quick visit to Bellamy Cay to check out Last Resort and then headed to Loose Mongoose for more fritters and a roti.

Great Harbour, Jost Van Dyke – We came here the next day to check out of the BVIs. So long, we had fun, and we’ll see you in a few days!!

St. Thomas – We left Trellis Bay, went to Great Harbour, checked back into the US at Cruz Bay in St. John, and then motored to Red Hook in St. Thomas all on the same day. We had read that anchoring in Red Hook was almost impossible due to resident cruisers, but we found a great spot. It’s a little rolly during the day due to the ferries that cause a big wake, but evening/night is comfortable. Plus, there I s a dumpster and Laundromat very close to the public dinghy dock that makes life simpler!

Yesterday we went to the grocery store, which isn’t always easy. If an island doesn’t have public transportation or stores close to a beach, it can be difficult and/or expensive to get where we need to be. Thankfully, St. Thomas has taxi safaris, which are trucks with covered beds and benches and only cost $1 or $2 depending on where you are going. We hit up Office Max, K-mart, and Plaza Extra to get supplies that we needed. There was still a little bit of a walk after getting groceries and lugging them back to the bus stop and boat so we indulged at The Melt for happy hour $1 tacos and drinks. Life is good!!!

Check out our Facebook page to see a dolphin video I took on the trip from St. Croix to St. John.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Our time in St. Croix

It has been a lazy, relaxing three weeks since we first dropped the hook in Christiansted, St. Croix, and I have been slacking on getting a blog entry cranked out. We bypassed St. John, St. Thomas, and the British Virgin Islands and sailed from Culebrita, Puerto Rico to St. Croix since there is a Mercury dealer where we could have the dinghy repaired or replaced under warranty. There are only two dealers in the Caribbean so we did not have much choice of where to go, but we are glad we made this unplanned visit. St. Croix is about 40 miles south of the other Virgin Islands and kind of out of the way so not many cruisers end up sailing here.

Christiansted is a cute, colorful town with vibrant displays of Danish architecture. A short walk through the historic district allows you to see old government buildings, shop fronts painted in various pastels, and a fort that leads you to a boardwalk lined with restaurants, bars, dive shops, and places to buy souvenirs.

Our first stop was the marina where they determined that the dinghy would have to be replaced. Yay to a new dinghy, but boo to the time it would take to have a new one shipped here. We were told it would take two or three weeks, and we were anxious to make our way north to the other Virgin Islands. But it is not really being "stuck" when you are in paradise. It gave us plenty of time to explore the island. Plus, the water in the bay we anchored in was crystal clear, and when we jumped off the boat to snorkel, we saw lionfish, lobsters, rays, turtles, and starfish.

After a few days of checking out Christiansted, we took a taxi to Frederiksted, which is on the west side of the island. The group taxis are a great deal at only $2.50 a person. The beaches are really pretty, and again the water was really clear. It is rocky in some areas, but that doesn't distract from the beauty of the place. I even found a piece of Chaney as we were walking along the beach, which is a piece of old Danish pottery. Several jewelers collect these pieces and turn them into jewelry. Maybe one of these days I’ll get mine made into a necklace.

Christmas was a quiet day spent on the boat with some awesome food, and then a few days later we sailed over to Frederiksted since there was a fireworks show on New Year’s Eve. We started out the night on s/v Moon where we had a couple of drinks, headed to the Christmas village to eat some delicious roti, and then ended the night on our deck watching a fabulous fireworks show. It was such a great start to 2016!!

The next day we snorkeled at the pier, which supposedly is a great night dive where you can see octopuses and sea horses. I wish we could have done a dive, but we aren’t certified L Then we went back to the beach to snorkel for sea glass and more Chaney. Not sure what I’ll do with it all, but it was fun looking for it, and I saw my first eel during that snorkel.

We ended our time in Frederiksted with the Carnival Adult Parade. I had never been to one so I was really excited about the music and costumes. We met up with Stephanie, Brian, and Rachel from s/v Moon again and had a great time watching the different troupes dance their way along the street.

And today we got our brand spanking new dinghy!! No more pumping up the old one until our arms feel that they will fall off!! The new one is white, and I’m a little sad to part with Dapple I. Being green he definitely stood out from all the other white and gray dinghies and had some character, but I am glad that Dapple II will be more reliable.

Tomorrow we say goodbye to St. Croix and will head to St. John. We’ll spend the rest of January in the USVI and BVIs, and I’m excited about several stops we have planned!

The following pictures are all out of order, but I hope you enjoy them. Once pictures are uploaded into Blogger, it is a pain to re-arrange them. There was also a quick trip to Buck Island that I didn't mention above. It is a beautiful uninhabited little island where sea turtles nest, and it is a great place to snorkel. It was our first time snorkeling with a big school (there were at least 100) of fish. It was beautiful!! We had also been told that a 10 foot tiger shark had been spotted a few times in the last couple of weeks along the island so it was a little nerve-racking snorkeling at the reef. Luckily there was a tour boat with people snorkeling around us so I felt a little better. You know what they say. You don't have to be the fastest swimmer.... :)